Democracy & The Future — 3 November 2020

該內容僅提供英文版。

Viral Alarm

 

We mark a consequential date on the global calendar by offering two songs by Leonard Cohen. Both ‘Democracy’ and ‘The Future’ featured in an album released in 1992 album.

‘The Future’ has been a personal favourite since its initial release.

In the past, it addressed the present, a poetic alert about what was unfolding. In more recent times, it coruscates still, an unsettling documentary about the moment.

The Cohen song that resonates most powerfully, however, is ‘Everybody Knows’, written in collaboration with Sharon Robinson and included in I’m Your Man, an album released in February 1988:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Below, an Australian becalmed in New Zealand borrows the words of a Canadian bard to reflect on America, and more.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
3 November 2020


I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA

from Leonard Cohen, ‘Democracy’

***

In the process of composing ‘Democracy’, Cohen remarked that he had written and rewritten some sixty verses:

‘This was when the Berlin Wall came down and everyone was saying democracy is coming to the east. And I was like that gloomy fellow who always turns up at a party to ruin the orgy or something. And I said, “I don’t think it’s going to happen that way. I don’t think this is such a good idea. I think a lot of suffering will be the consequence of this wall coming down.” But then I asked myself, “Where is democracy really coming?” And it was the U.S.A … . So while everyone was rejoicing, I thought it wasn’t going to be like that, euphoric, the honeymoon. So it was these world events that occasioned the song. And also the love of America. Because I think the irony of America is transcendent in the song. It’s not an ironic song. It’s a song of deep intimacy and affirmation of the experiment of democracy in this country. That this is really where the experiment is unfolding. This is really where the races confront one another, where the classes, where the genders, where even the sexual orientations confront one another. This is the real laboratory of democracy.’

quoted in Paul Zollo, Songwriters On Songwriting
Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, p.335

***

Democracy

Leonard Cohen

 

It’s coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It’s coming from the feel
That this ain’t exactly real
Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the USA

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on
It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA

It’s coming from the women and the men
O baby, we’ll be making love again
We’ll be going down so deep
The river’s going to weep,
And the mountain’s going to shout Amen
It’s coming like the tidal flood
Beneath the lunar sway
Imperial, mysterious
In amorous array
Democracy is coming to the USA

Sail on, sail on

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA


***

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing (won’t be)
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned
The order of the soul

from Leonard Cohen, ‘The Future’

The Future

Leonard Cohen

 

Give me back my broken night
My mirrored room, my secret life
It’s lonely here
There’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
Over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby
That’s an order

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole
In your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother
It is murder

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing (won’t be nothing)
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned
The order of the soul

When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant

You don’t know me from the wind
You never will, you never did
I’m the little Jew
Who wrote the Bible
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
But love’s the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
To say it clear, to say it cold
It’s over, it ain’t going
Any further (do, do, do)

And now the wheels of heaven stop
You feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future
It is murder (do, do, do)
Things are going to slide
Slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing (won’t be)
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned
The order of the soul

When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant

There’ll be the breaking of the ancient
Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode (ooh, ooh)
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing

You’ll see a woman
Hanging upside down (ooh, ooh)
Her features covered by her fallen gown (ooh, ooh)
And all the lousy little poets
Coming round
Tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson
Yeah, the white man dancin’

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima (do, do, do)
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder (do, do, do)

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing (won’t be)
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned
The order of the soul

When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant
When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)
I wonder what they meant

When they said (they said) repent (repent), repent (repent)